This was written from a number of sources in Oceania.
The only example that was given to the Synod delegates was ….. “bad behaviour at a Vestry meeting” fifteen years ago.
Perhaps a better example would have been domestic violence, the high-level coverup of sexual abuse, or the bullying and silencing of abuse victims.
What is this about? Read on.
Jeremy Johnson (then the Chancellor of Christchurch Diocese) was explaining proposed
drastic reforms to Title D – the canons that govern the maintenance of professional standards amongst ministers of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa New Zealand and Polynesia, and the associated formal complaints process. He was appearing in a video to be played to General Synod 2020 participants so that they could provide feedback, and eventually vote, on the proposed changes.
It was the most significant overhaul of Title D that had occurred in decades. It was also
2020, the year when the pandemic and its associated chaos began to rage. General Synod had been moved to Zoom and the proceedings shortened from a whole week to a single day, both unprecedented moves. Yet the reforms were urgent – the Royal Commission into Abuse in Care had already begun, and it was already abundantly clear that Title D wasn’t fit for purpose. It needed to be changed. As Jeremy rightly pointed out,
‘Title D is important externally because it is through our disciplinary processes that we can inspire public confidence in our Church.’
Consequently, a video was made to inform Synod participants and explain the proposed
reforms – which can still be viewed on YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vpHTaNfrUkE
In the video, Philip Richardson Archbishop of Tīkanga Pākehā, Jeremy Johnson and Bruce
Gray the Chancellor of Auckland Diocese all appear to explain the changes. They give an
assurance that the changes had been worked on for a very long time, and all implications
thoroughly considered. They explain how the reforms would improve the process, and how
the improvements would be real and impressive.
Prior to the 2020 Title D reforms, a bishop had the power to throw out any Title D complaint for any reason (as per clauses C6.4, D1.1.2). A bishop had the power to ignore the findings and recommendations of any Title D Determination Tribunal (as per clauses D3 8.1, 9.1).
A bishop was responsible for resolving complaints at the same time as being responsible for the pastoral care and support of the defendant. In most cases, a formal complaint could not be laid against a bishop unless it was supported by at least four clergy (as per Canon II 3.1).
It is not hard to see what problems could, and did, arise from such a system.
There is no question that the decision to move all complaints to a centralised Ministry
Standards Commission (much like the Roman Catholics’ National Office of Professional
Standards) was a good move. In the more serious cases, complainants are now guaranteed
legal support, and – in theory – complaints are dealt with by those with the expertise to do so.
But to many survivors of clergy abuse, these reforms are utterly worthless and insulting.
Why? Because of Canon III.B14 – the Limitations Clause.
It is completely new, and very few Anglicans are aware of it. Even many of the clergy who attended the General Synod in 2020, who had voted on the reforms, were totally unaware that they had voted the new Limitations Clause into existence. Jeremy Johnson, Bruce Gray and Philip Richardson never actually mentioned the Limitations Clause in the entire 30-minute video. Jeremy did hint at it at one point (at about the 11:45 mark) when he said
“the reforms that had been introduced provided ‘greater clarity on certain issues such as
when complaints can be summarily dismissed. For example, if an issue arose too long ago –
say, 15 years – and somebody’s complaining about somebody’s behaviour at a Vestry
meeting. In that case, of course, the complaint would not necessarily proceed.’
That was the entirety of what was said on this point. Just one example – bad behaviour at a Vestry meeting 15 years ago. And from the way Jeremy phrased it, it seemed very much flexible – ‘the complaint would not necessarily proceed’ – so perhaps it still could?
The fact is that this is an entirely misleading characterisation of the effect of the Limitations Clause. It goes much further than what one would think from hearing the example that Jeremy gave.In fact, the Limitations Clause prevents almost all complaints about conduct that occurred more than three years ago. If the Registrar gives special permission, that can be extended up to six years, but no further.
The only real exemption from this time limit is for complaints regarding sexual misconduct committed by a minister complained against after he/she received a bishop’s license.
There is no exemption for complaints regarding domestic abuse, or any other form of abuse such as physical, psychological, emotional or spiritual.
There is no exemption for complaints regarding the coverup of abuse, enabling of abusers, or intentional silencing of abuse victims – not even in cases of child sexual abuse.
What this means in real terms is
A minister or priest may terrorise and beat his wife and children for years on end.
A bishop can knowingly ordain a paedophile, and just move him to a new parish whenever a complaint is made.
A priest may bully an abuse survivor into silence, refuse to pass on their complaints and tell them that the abuse was their fault.
A licensed lay minister may knowingly write a dishonest reference for an abuser so that he can be ordained.
And no one could possibly lay a formal complaint against those ministers – if it happened more than three to six years ago. That is the true effect of the new Limitations Clause.
Before the 2020 Title D reforms, despite all the deficiencies in the process, it was possible for any abuse complaint to be laid down and considered. Now that has been taken away.
Now it is quite literally impossible for a Determination Tribunal to be convened to consider the cases outlined in the above paragraph – no, not even if a bishop should so wish to do.
There may be those who wonder whether this sort of offending really happens in the New
Zealand Anglican Church, but be assured that it most definitely does. The testimonies that
survivors have given to the Royal Commission have made that clear.
Moreover, I have been in contact with a number of abuse survivors who state categorically that they have been excluded from making complaints concerning the abuse they have suffered solely because of this new Limitations Clause.
So the vital questions are:
What is the point of improving a complaints process whilst simultaneously excluding
many, many abuse survivors from accessing that process?
Is this going to ensure a safe Church?
Is this going to ensure that the Church is trustworthy in the eyes of wider society?
In the video discussed above, Jeremy Johnson said that the most important factor affecting
the timing of these Title D reforms is the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Abuse in Care.
In December 2021, the Royal Commission released their interim report on redress, entitled
From Redress to Puretumu Torowhānui. https://www.abuseincare.org.nz/our-progress/reports/from-redress-to-puretumu/
The Royal Commission condemned the Church’s track record of dealing with abuse and
wrote about ‘processes to suit the institutions’ own needs, not those of survivors, and as a
result, have added to survivors’ harm and trauma.’
Interestingly enough, the Church’s recourse to ‘limitation defences’, when faced with complaints in the civil law courts, was also specifically condemned. And now the New Zealand Anglican Church has inserted just such a clause into Title D!
Also contained in the redress report was testimony from Archbishop Philip Richardson, in
which he explained the 2020 Title D reforms. He agreed that the reforms were by no means final, and even listed some problems with the new Title D that would need to be amended in further reforms. However, no mention was made of the Limitations Clause – in fact, as far as is known, no representative of the Church has mentioned the Limitations Clause to the Royal Commission at all.
Nor is there any mention of it on any provincial and diocesan safeguarding websites. It is as if it does not exist – and cannot actually be discovered unless someone happens to read
through the fine print of Title D canons themselves, or if someone lays a complaint and is
informed that their complaint must be ‘summarily dismissed’..
Another important document that is relevant to this is the Anglican Church’s Submission on Redress to the Royal Commission. This document is available to read on the Anglican
It is a form-based submission, containing answers to preset questions. Many of the
questions are about a proposed independent redress scheme that would allow abuse survivors to seek redress outside the institution in which they were originally abused.
Question 3 asks: ‘What types of abuse should be included in a redress scheme?
For example, a) physical, sexual, emotional and psychological abuse? b) neglect? c) all of those types of abuse? d) only one or some of those types of abuse? e) only abuse that results in serious mental or physical harm to the survivor? f) other types of abuse?
The Anglican Church’s answer is:
‘The redress scheme should cover physical, sexual, emotional, spiritual and psychological
abuse and neglect which results in serious mental or physical harm to the survivor.’
Therefore, if the Anglican Church in New Zealand agrees that the independent redress
scheme should receive complaints about all these forms of abuse, why is it that the Anglican Church itself has just changed its complaints process to do the exact opposite of this?
Almost all complaints that could be made to such an independent redress scheme, would not be accepted by the Anglican Church’s Ministry Standards Commission – unless such offending occurred within the last three to six years.
This is incredibly important.
The independent redress scheme is about providing redress to the survivor. But regardless of how it is set up, it would have no authority whatsoever to impose any disciplinary penalties on Anglican ministers.
That form of accountability is in the hands of the Anglican Church,and it alone. And in the Anglican Church, the avenue for imposing disciplinary penalties is the Ministry Standards Commission, and Title D. As Jeremy Johnson rightly said,
“Title D should show ‘that we do believe very much in what we say and that we try and act consistently and with a high regard for the care of all people,as the Gospel calls us to do.’
But there is no consistency between the Title D Limitations clause and the Anglican Church’s submission on Redress.
Make no mistake.
There are ministers who are currently in active ministry in New Zealand who have (allegedly) perpetrated abuse and/or enabled abuse. There are ministers who (allegedly)have covered for abusers and silenced survivors. There are ministers who are accused of such things and have faced no consequences whatsoever.
And they are immune to Title D complaints, because of the Limitations Clause that was
approved in General Synod 2020.
This is known to survivor advocates because survivors’ networks have been approached by a number of abuse survivors in this situation. In a number of cases, the abuse survivor in
question actually reported the offending at the time but was silenced. And now their
complaint will not be heard because too much time has passed – ‘too much is more than three years.
The New Zealand Anglican Church is not the first Province to go through this experience of
canonical reform, to bring professional standards processes up to modern standards. Of
course, the Australians went through their own Royal Commission.
What most people do not know about is the gruelling process of canon law reform that followed, and the set up of systems to maintain professional standards and ensure accountability for ministers.
Valuable lessons can and should be learned from the Australian experience.A real-life example of this was in the news recently:
On December 13, 2021, in Australia Archbishop Roger Herft was defrocked. His offending?
While he was Archbishop of Newcastle, he repeatedly and knowingly failed to act on
complaints against ministers regarding the sexual abuse of children. Many children were put at risk and harmed as a result of his willful and deliberate inaction.
You can read the Episcopal Standards Board Judgement on Mr Herft here. https://anglican.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2021/12/ESB-Determination-Herft-8-December-2021.pdf
But there is more – before Roger Herft was a bishop in Australia, he was Bishop of Waikato.
Did he act similarly when he was Bishop of Waikato?
Did he cover for paedophile priests there too?
That is not known, but if he did, he would now be immune to any Title D complaint
regarding such behaviour.
If Roger Herft had acted in such a manner when in New Zealand, no formal complaint could be laid against him, solely because of the new Limitations Clause. But because he did what he did in Australia, he was held accountable. That in itself should give pause for reflection on what was done at General Synod 2020.
There are other similar examples. In recent years the case of Maurice Dagger was in the news in New Zealand – a man who indecently assaulted a thirteen-year-old girl who was in his care.
He was later ordained, despite the fact that his offending was well known to the bishop and to the Diocese. Dagger’s victim laid a complaint in December 2019 – before the 2020 Title D reforms came into force when Dagger was still in ministry. Had she tried to do so more recently, no Title D complaint could now be laid against any of those involved in Dagger’s selection and ordination.
Many other stories such as this have been, and are being told, to the Royal Commission, and when the independent redress scheme is set up, more of those stories will be made known.
The now virtually unknown Limitations Clause may well appear in the news media. Because some of those abuse survivors will say to the independent redress panel –
“I tried to lay a complaint with the Anglican Church, but they would not hear it, because of their new limitations Clause.”
This should give pause to anyone who identifies as Anglican. What has been written above shows the nature of the problem? How to solve it?
The only way to solve it is via the same means it was originally created in the first place, – an amendment to the Title D canons must be made at General Synod/Te Hinota Whānui.
General Synod occurs only every two years and was scheduled to happen during 7-12 MayIt has now been postponed to an as-yet-unannounced date. Meanwhile, the very same people who put the 2020 reforms through are now working on further amendments to Title D.
Abuse survivors have raised the issue of the Limitations Clause with them – and indeed they raised the issue before the 2020 reforms were put through, but that was not heeded. To survivor groups, no assurance has been given that the Limitations Clause will be amended, only that it will be “taken into consideration”.
What can you do about this?
You can educate your clergy and lay synod representatives regarding this issue, and make
sure your feelings are known about it. You can email your Diocesan Chancellor.
You can email the Archbishop’s office. (Email addresses and contact forms can be found by searching here: https://www.anglican.org.nz/Directory
Anyone who has the privilege of attending General Synod can use their voice to press this
issue. Everyone can demand that every abuse-related complaint against an Anglican minister must be heard.
Everyone can demand that every Anglican minister must be held accountable via Title D for any abuse, any coverup of abuse, any enabling of abuse and any silencing of abuse survivors.
Anything less is a betrayal of the Gospel to which we are called to be witnesses.
The challenge now is: what are you going to do about it?
A prayer for survivors of abuse in the Church:
This prayer is from the Statement from Archbishop Kay Goldsworthy AO, Archbishop of Perth
responding to the deposition from holy orders of Mr Roger Herft former Archbishop of Perth,
Bishop of Newcastle, and Bishop of Waikato Aotearoa/New Zealand.
God of healing and hope,
we pray for victims of abuse,
and especially for people whose trust was betrayed
by members or leaders of the Church.
Thank you for the strength and courage of survivors
who have spoken up,
telling their stories and calling for justice.
May their journeys of suffering
be transformed by your grace
into journeys of healing and restoration,
through the love of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
++Kay Goldsworthy, Archbishop of Perth
Comment from another source
Canon IIII.B14 the Limitations Clause is a direct attempt to severely limit any abuse complaints in the New Zealand Anglican Church & renders any positive statutory reform as useless window dressing. It needs to be rescinded.
It is clearly evident that for many survivors of abuse that it often takes years to make a formal complaint, because of the psychological damage and circumstances of that abuse. Statutory Limitations have been wound back in many jurisdictions because they recognise this very fact.
Canon IIII.B14 is institutional protection. Further reforms of institutions cannot ignore past victims. This Canon must go.